Enabling the Deaf

enablerIn our world we often spend a lot of our time complaining about whats wrong. I am no exception to this. In Australia  we have a system for people with a disability that does not kick in until someone complains. So we complain, and often. But as we complain we often forget there are solutions. In the Rebuttal’s last post I outlined how  society so often and unnecessarily Disables the Deaf. Well how can we enable the deaf?

There are solutions, and they abound everywhere. Enabling is often simple. It is often common sense. It is often cheap and sometimes not so. But there is no doubt in my mind that our society has the ability to enable the deaf in a big way. Certainly much better than it does now. Especially in this high tech world.

Last week I attended a big function at my work. I am fortunate that my work has a can do attitude. For this particular function they contacted me for advice to set up access for the deaf. They were keen. At one point they were considering four interpreters based at vantage points around the room so no deaf person would miss out.

I advised that this wouldn’t be necessary. This was because the venue was high tech. It had big screens at vantage places in the room. I advised them to book the usual two interpreters  and beam them to the screen. A simple solution.

I also pointed out that there would be people in the audience with a hearing loss who do not sign and would require captioning. I pointed out that there were others that might benefit from a loop systems to hear better. Nothing was too hard or too much for the organisers. They organised everything. They liaised with the tech experts at  the venue so that interpreters and captioning appeared on the screen with the speaker.

In this way they enabled the deaf. But there was an additional benefit. You see, within the audience were a few people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Two of these were sitting at my table. I noticed that they were watching the captions.  The captions actually enhanced their understanding of spoken word. As is so often the case, not only does access enable the deaf, it enables others as well.

One of the great advances in recent years has been the improvements in voice recognition technology. It still isn’t great but I discovered recently that I could use simple voice recognition technology to communicate with some hearing people that were difficult to lipread.

Of course I cannot have an interpreter with me 24/7. There are times when I meet people that are just very difficult to understand. What I can do is I log into Notes on my iPhone, press the little microphone on the keyboard and then I get them to speak into the phone. In this way I can have a short and sharp conversation with them. In fact this whole paragraph was generated using voice recognition technology. (I emailed it to myself and copied and pasted it here.)

In time voice recognition technology might get to be so good that you can go to the doctor, bank or lawyer and use it for meetings. It is not there yet but I expect it will get better and better. Just another way to enable the deaf.

Enabling the deaf is often just about attitude. People with the right attitude make the world a better place. People at my work are a prime example. Sometimes we must have impromptu meetings. Without being asked someone will sit next to me and start typing out the conversations.

During the day there is a lot of information that is talked about around the room. Often my colleagues will email me to make sure I am in loop with these conversations. The best one was when someone emailed me about Maree discussing having showers with her dog (it saves water). I feel valued and included because of their attitude. This is a practical way to enable the deaf.

Potentially, used properly, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) can also enable the deaf. If it could fund interpreters or captioning for me so that I can be involved with my local soccer clubs committee. I can coach the team and an interpreter can facilitate my communication and inclusion. I’ve yet to hear of this happening but given that one of the key objectives of the NDIS is community participation, why not? Such an approach would enhance inclusion for the deaf in a big way. The funding of technology and other devices to enhance communication and safety is also another way to enable the deaf.

I often wonder how I survived being deaf in years gone by. There were no interpreters at work. There certainly was no captioning. There was no email. No SMS. There was no means to access the phone. There was no Skype and no real time text chat. My mother had to phone my friends. I had to find someone to call me  a cab or a pizza.

I remember years ago standing in a wine bar in London. I was giving a pretty girl the eye. At the end of the night she came up to me, whispered something in my ear and placed a piece of paper in my back pocket. It was her phone number. Fat lot of good it was to me. But with today’s technology and services I would have been able to call her. (I still wonder, to this day,what it was she whispered in my ear.)

Perhaps it will never be perfect but we have at our fingertips so many solutions to enable the deaf. There is no excuse to not use them. I mean why can’t cinemas simply put open captions on every movie. It just means everyone gets access. If someone has a shitty attitude and wont go to the movies because of open captions, well let them rot at home. (And please do not waste my time calling Craptiview access.)

Who remembers the crap access the deaf used to have to captions on television? I just did  a check of the channels on TV, in the middle of the afternoon on a Sunday. Eight out of nine channels I tried had captions including the golf., the cricket, the soccer, the Gruen Transfer, Southpark and motor racing. Even the Ads were captioned. A far cry from yesteryear when the only captions we had were Home and Away, Neighbours and a few choice ABC shows.

It really is not hard to enable the deaf. All it takes is a Can Do attitude and commitment. We have the potential to make inclusion possible for the deaf in every aspect of our society 24/7. There is no excuse for any exclusion in this day and age.

And so it is for other disability groups too. Make those buses accessible, provide audio and Braille options for the blind, make buildings accessible or design jobs in such a way that people with intellectual disabilities can participate. All it takes is the will and an attitude and we can enable just about everybody!







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